Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing on the Wall: Portello

Porta, Scalinata e Ponte Ognissanti

This door to the city marks the university center for Padua since it has the largest concentration of university buildings in the area. The name is also borrowed to describe the residential area in its vicinity, "Portello". But it's first role was as a customs house when Padua still had all of its walls in place and it remained active long after the other city doors' lost their utility.

It was constructed in 1518-19 for Captain Marcantonio Loredan with an Istria stone facade by Guglielmo Grizi ("The Bergamasco"). The bridge dates from 1784 and connects Via Portello to the Istituti Universitari and fairgrounds to the north. On the other side of the door, there is the Edicola di Santa Maria dei Barcari, 1790, in a decorative chapel. Yet the steps seems to actually be the highlight since Canaletto supposedly depicted them and Barbarigo used them to welcome the Venetian authorities visiting Padua. On a warm spring day, you can spot numerous university students reading on them as the sunlight showers down.

In 1993, those steps, la scalinata della Fraglia, were put to public use, recently restored and have been monitored by the association Amissi del Piovego. They hold a market on the last Saturday of the month, Portello Cartastorie. Touristi boats leave there for tours along the Brenta, too. Then in the summer months of June and July, a temporary and floating screen is place in the canal and 4 weeks of events are planned around the Portello River Festival, including some of Hollywood's latest movies, experimental cinema, local documentaries, jazz concerts and short-film events.

For two years, the Portello area was completely transformed during the hot months (June-September) because all the local bars set up stands to serve their clientele along this canal instead of packing the city center with rambunctious teenagers and young adults with a buzz. It was a lot of fun because each stand created a different theme which was distinct from the next. You could walk down the road and drink at the "tropical" stand or "fashion" bar. It was a festival of color and furniture styles. Unfortunately the neighbors complained about noise and the city disbanded the concentration of bars this past summer.

This door is one of the most active still today. Hundreds of students walk and bike under its triumphal arch, not to mention the markets and festivals that take place here.

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